Archive for September, 2008

Bono needs your help: Tell people that the world is getting better

As I mentioned, a better world is possible. What is good news is that we are getting there, albeit frightfully slowly. But people tend to think that it’s actually getting worse. A couple of days ago Bono on his blog wrote about this:

As I mentioned earlier in the week, there are 18 non-oil economies in Africa which have grown now at 5.5% for a decade, countries which on average have seen a 66% increase in aid, most are democracies and most have received full debt cancellation. With statistics like these it proves it’s still time to aid Africa. But it also proves it’s time to invest in Africa.  Any remaining capital out there couldn’t find a better long-term bet than the African subcontinent, that’s my tip for the week. It’s undeniable, there simply has been fantastic success and it’s a crime these breakthroughs against poverty aren’t better known. Can all of you out there in the blogosphere please focus on these statistics of success and help me understand why they aren’t better known?

He is completely right. And I’m going to try to do my part, as a part of the blogosphere. And if you aren’t convinced by Bono, then take a look at these two presentations from Gapminder: Hans Roslings presentation at TED, and the Human Development Trends 2005 flash presentation. I never get tired of Hans Roslings presentation, he says exactly what I have come to realise the last 10-15 years. And the most important comment is that we have a new world. It is no longer “us” the rich and “them” the poor. We are all in one big world, there are no longer a gap between the rich and the poor. The world is getting richer, it’s getting better and what we need is more of what we have has the last twenty-thirty years.

And it will come to no surprise what this is: More openness in the society. Many poor countries have moved from dictatorship or civil war towards an openly participatory democracy. Borders have opened for people and trade all over the world. Mobile phones have given a communication tool to the poor. The internet has opened up a universe of information. These are the changes that lie at the bottom of this slow but important change, and with more of it we can make these changes go much faster.

So help Bono and spread the word: The world is getting better. We can change it, we can get rid of poverty, and we in fact know exactly how to do it.

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Open people means creative society.

There has been some research done on different personality types in different states in the US. It’s worth notic that there is a pretty strong correlation with how open people are as personalities and how big part arts and computers is of the economy, and more importantly, there is correlation between this opennes and how many patents that is generated in the state.

Having an open mind means more ideas. This is not the same meaning of “open” as in my other posts, where I mean the open sharing of information, and the open functioning of the state. But it is not just an unrelated concept that happens to use the same word. Openness to other people and other ideas go hand in hand with sharing of information.

Openness is based on an initial trust, an assumption that other people in general are not out to hurt you. If you don’t have this attitude it will be much harder for you to share information. A government who does not trust it’s people will not be open, and will instead do it’s business behind closed doors, which is democratically problematic, and in turn means that the people will lose trust in it’s politicians.

So that an openness in attitudes towards others correlates with creativity and prosperity is not surprising. It’s harder to say what comes first, but we need to grow trust and openness in our relations as well as in policy.

[link via Marginal Revolution]

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From democracy to black mail

Apparently Wikileaks are starting to sell off leaks. So they have damning secrets about Venezuela? Auctioning them off opens up for Venezuela, via some agent, to buy it back. It’s a good guess that Venezuela can afford more than any magazine can for the same information.

Wikileaks have in one stroke gone from one of the smartest way of opening up democracy and preventing corruption I’ve seen in a long time, to black mail. This goes completely contrary to the ideas Wikileaks claimed to stand for when it started. Black mail is usually illegal. I’m not sure if it is when you are black mailing a government, but it is still despiccable.

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Competition is good for us, part 2

In part 1 I explained why competition is good for us because it makes things better, cheaper and more diverse. But one question remains: What the people who loose their jobs because of competition? At least competition is bad for them, right?

And of course, in the short term that’s true. They would, without competition, still have their jobs. But when looking at it in the long term, things look completely different. When one company has to close down because another company made something that was better or cheaper then they did, this is just a temporary setback. Because the money that are saved buy buying the cheaper product does not just disappear. They get used somewhere else, and more jobs are created in that sector instead. The people that lost their jobs may have to change their type of work, but competition has not made the available jobs fewer. And this works even across borders.

With cheaper clothes and toys thanks to imports from China, families with kids get more money over. Which they spend on buying other things, for example buy going to the movies more often. This expands the entertainment industry, which is largely american. So now we have the same amounts of jobs in the US, but many more jobs in China. This makes China richer, so Chinese people are now buying more goods from other countries, including the US. Although mostly they buy from Europe. Which makes Europe richer. So we buy more things from the US. In the end of this circle, all countries are richer than before. Because of competition.

So the losers are the corporations who go bust. It is then worth reminding ourselves who the open society is supposed to benefit. The open society is not supposed to benefit politicians or corporations. It is supposed to benefit the people. This is often forgotten. A good example of this is the so called browser-wars. Netscape Navigator was the biggest browser around until Microsoft came with their own browser, Internet Explorer. I remember this, and I also remember switching to Internet Explorer very quickly. It was simply much better than Navigator. It was also free. And the last blow to Netscape came when Microsoft started shipping Internet Explorer included with Windows. Many see this as unethical behaviour from Microsoft, as unfair competition. And of course it was bad for the company Netscape. But for everyone else it was good, because we got a browser that was not only better, we didn’t have to pay for it. Microsofts competition was bad for the company Netscape, but good for the people.

There were many other browsers out there too, like Opera, that was better than Internet Explorer, but you had to pay for. Nobody was very interested. The competition wasn’t good enough. And what happened without good competition? Well, Microsoft stopped improving Internet Explorer. It stayed on version 6 for years. Not until Firefox came around and we got a browser that was better, but also free, and open source to boot, did Microsoft wake up. Because they saw that their share was shrinking, rapidly, and they had to improve Explorer to make it better. This is a classic example of how improvement and invention stops if you don’t have enough competition. It also shows that in an open society, when that stop happens, this opens up for others to compete again.

Today, and this is what ultimately made me write these posts, Google announced a new browser, Chrome. It has a lot of improvements compared to Firefox, and even more compared to Internet Explorer. It also has a big name behind it, Google. It will be competition for both Internet Explorer and Firefox. But what ultimately will happen depends on how good it is. Will it be better than Firefox? Will Firefox be able to keep up? Will people who trust Microsoft, but doesn’t trust Firefox trust Google? We don’t know what will happen in the end, which of these browsers that will prevail. Some have expressed concern that this will spell doom for Firefox. That is possible, but that will only happen if Chrome is a much better browser.So yet again, competition turns out to be good.

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Competition is good for us, part 1

Something that can be hard to accept with an open society is that it always contains competition. This comes as a direct result of the openness. Since everybody can thread the path forward that they deem best, instead of being forced from the top by people who have little clue, this inevitably means that several groups of people will work on the same thing separately, at the same time. This lack of cooperation might start because they don’t know of each other, or because they don’t like each other, or because one group things it can do it better than the other. Sometimes groups merge, sometimes they split.

But the end effect of this is that the groups end up competing. Sometimes it’s for fun, sometimes for glory and quite often it’s for money. After all, we need to produce to survive. This competition is often seen as something bad. First of all it can seem wasteful that two groups are working on doing the same thing. Wouldn’t it be more efficient if they cooperated? It sure seems so. Secondly quite often something happens that make one group actually win the competition. In friendly competitions this seems OK, but when you compete for money, it often means some people will lose their incomes. And that is definitely not good.

So shouldn’t we try to avoid competition, at least about money? The answer is no.

When two groups compete, they never do exactly the same thing. There is always a difference. Which one is best? Well, that decision is then with the people who use it. We get to choose from various options, and decide which one is best for us. We choose for ourselves without necessarily forcing that decision on others. It’s the sort of ultimate democracy that the open society is full of.

This ability to choose is beneficial for society in various ways. In the most basic and boring way, it’s good economically. Because one of the most common ways that the produce differs is in price. So when products are similar, we tend to go for the cheapest one. This lowers prices, and lower prices makes people richer, because they get money over to buy other things.

But it’s not just the price that is important, but also quality. Do we want cheap and cheerful or expensive and exquisite? Well, often we want both, but at different times. If you are a bit hungry you might snatch up a chocolate bar and gobble it down, but when you have a nice relaxing evening with your significant other you might prefer a box of luscious expensive chocolates. And when we want cheap, we want as cheap as possible. So when buying gas for the car, we go for price. And when we go for quality, we want the best we can afford. None of these choices are available unless we have many producers competing with different products at different prices and different qualities. If we don’t have competition, you have to choose the single producer there is, no matter what the quality and price is. And that provides very little need for the producer to make something that is cheap or good, and we tend to end up with expensive and bad.

But competition is not only good for price and quality, which is what most people tend to focus on. We often forget something important when it comes to competition, and that is that it generates diversity. This can be a bit surprising. After all, if you look around todays highly competitive western world, you today mostly see McDonald’s and Starbuck’s, Hollywood blockbusters and books about wizards and witches. It might not look very diverse at first glance. But if you look a bit closer, you’ll between the big chains see loads of small restaurants run by people who love food. And these comes in all sizes, shapes and forms. There is Indian, Chinese, Lebanese, Thai, Vietnamese, Australian, South African, Kosher, Halal, Vegetarian, and even Swedish restaurants to go to. You can go for pizzas in small mostly take-away shops with plastic seats, or you can go to expensive ecological Italian gourmet pizzas in cozy atmospheres and subdues lighting. And although kids books (and movies) about magic is highly popular now, everyone wants on on the Harry Potter train, there is such an amazing abundance of fantastic and weird literature out there that it’s completely mind boggling. This vacation, the last five weeks, I’ve read thought-provoking science-fiction, and entertaining science fiction, some useless book about politics (complete crap, don’t read it), and a highly interesting book about politics. I’ve read a shallow but funny book about gods, and a deep and funny book about gods. I’ve read a thin and quick read about how people works, and am now currently reading a very heavy and slow read about how science works, and one or two more books. Notice how you probably haven’t read most of those books, in fact you probably haven’t even heard of them. Even though they all except three are well known enough to have their own Wikipedia pages. Competition creates diversity, and the result is that there today is more books out there that are important enough that you should read them, then is likely that you ever going to have time to read. Not all of the books above are blockbusters that made their authors rich, but some of them are.

In short: Competition is good. But, you say, what about those getting out-competed? The people loosing their jobs. I’ll tak about that in part 2. This post is already way too long. Sorry about the blabbering.

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